How ‘social’ should your marketing be?

Social media for businessI just spent a couple of days talking social media with marketers from all kinds of industries — including fairly traditional ones like publishing and banking– at Marketingprof’s Digital Marketing Mixer in Chicago.

The conference was terrific and filled with useful, detailed information on how to use Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media for business marketing.

But many of the attendees were struggling with the question of not how, but why to use these social media in their marketing mix. They weren’t sure of the applications for their business, and were there looking for inspiration and guidance.

How to use social media in marketing is a question that every business is facing today, and will continue to face. I came away with two key guidelines that I am using to assess my clients’ social marketing needs.

First, your business needs to be engaging where your customers or prospects are. This will be different for nearly every business. You don’t have to be the first one on a channel, but you don’t want to be the last. If your customers are out there talking about you on Twitter right now, then you’d better figure out a Twitter strategy, starting with the simple one of being responsive.

Second, and most important: no matter what you decide today, you need to reassess it soon, maybe only three or six months from now. Just because you don’t need a Facebook fan page today doesn’t mean you won’t need one in a few months. This is all changing much too fast to allow complacency.

Watch where your competitors are, where your users are, and how customer behavior is changing.  And stay poised for change, because that is the only constant in today’s online world.

When graphics don’t work

Despite being a word person at heart, I love good graphics, and am always trying to find ways to incorporate them in my work.

However, I sometimes run into a ‘graphics for graphics sake’ mentality that can be counterproductive.  For example, I hear “Just add a couple graphics and it’s good” or “Can’t we just say this with pictures?”

Some things are complicated, and need either 1) carefully-chosen words, or 2) a really talented graphical artist.  And anything less than a well-designed graphic just gets in the way.

For example, my daughter sent this picture of a sign in China.


I can think of a few ways to read this picture, including:

  • No cars spontaneously bursting into flames from their rooftops
  • No Vegas showgirls on top of cars

I doubt either of those is the intended meaning.

Graphics, like written text, require clear thinking about the subject at hand. In this case, because the sign is in China, it’s quite possible that the sign artist and I think quite differently, given our cultural and structural-language differences.  It’s also quite possible that Chinese drivers or pedestrians seeing the sign know precisely what it means. (I sure hope so.)

But it brings home a point – a graphic that doesn’t communicate clearly is more of a distraction than a clarification. Sometimes, a few carefully-chosen words can go further towards achieving your objective.

If you’re not in the band, get off the wagon

People are social creatures, and feel most comfortable going where everyone else already is – something referred to as the ‘bandwagon effect’. In marketing, the bandwagon effect often turns into something darker – the crass exploitation of an event or trend for marketing gains.

The most egregious example I’ve seen was Michael Jackson’s father at the BET awards. Three days after his son’s death, he used a sympathetic interview to pitch his new records label. And it backfired. He lost viewer sympathy almost instantly, and managed to promote only his own callousness.

Usually, however, it’s much more innocuous.  Cloud computing is hot, so suddenly every technology is enabling cloud computing.  Green technology? Companies stretch to figure out ways that their technologies could be perceived as eco-friendly.

Every time there’s a major news items, you can almost hear marketing executives around the globe saying “How can we take advantage of this thing?” And then they run campaigns with convoluted logic tying their products to the new trend.

Staying current and relevant is absolutely the job of marketing. But exploiting current events in ways that bring no real value? That’s marketing gone bad. Sure, you may get clicks to your website, but they’ll bounce unless you immediately and clearly offer a value relevant to the hot topic.  And you have to believe that buyers can detect desperation.  Don’t be Joe Jackson.  Stay relevant but authentic.

Partying like it’s (not) 1999

iStock_000007321918XSmallI attended the launch party for Marketo’s new sales application recently, and one of the attendees commented that “it almost felt like 2000 again, back in the dot-com days.”

I think he was referring to the free drinks and appetizers. There has been a dearth of corporate parties since those dot com days. But cocktails and appetizers aside, this gathering was nothing like the dot com party days.

Back in 1999 and 2000, it was enough to create a web presence, reel in millions in venture funding, and start celebrating. The hype would drive visitors, and some time later you’d figure out how to turn them into revenue-generating customers. Business plans inevitably featured a “hockey stick” revenue curve that miraculously kicked in two years in the future.

Marketo’s software, however, is all about results. It’s about helping online companies turn web visitors into contacts, prospects, leads and opportunities, converting interest to revenue in predictable and repeatable ways. Visitors are good, but conversion is everything. And Marketo’s gathering was filled with actual customers and users.

Marketo’s vision simply supports the new results-driven realities of today’s tech marketing environment. It’s no longer enough to have a fabulous ad campaign, or the best billboard on Highway 101 on the peninsula. Channels have proliferated, and you need to figure out which ones are successful for your business, and which ones deliver a real return on marketing investment.

While we might mourn the heady excitement of those dot com days, this new reality is exciting and challenging in its own right. We have to harness our marketing creativity to cold, hard facts and data. We have to balance the allure of the growth of new channels with the constraints of fixed budgets and time, and come up with the best mix for the business, not for our personal preferences. Free drinks aside, this is an exciting time to be involved in marketing.

When is a white paper not a white paper?

fishing lure

Answer: When it’s a lure. Or a filter. Or a score.

After years of writing white papers for tech companies, I’ve started looking at them through a different lens. I’ve always thought of white papers as part of the sales cycle – moving prospects toward a successful sales results. Now I have started thinking of their role in lead generation and nurturing.

A recent visit to Qualys really put this in context. Qualys runs a finely-tuned lead generation and nurturing operation – as do many businesses in the valley.  White papers, webinars and other content function as the cogs in the well-oiled machine. And they fit several roles, from lead generation to nurturing to scoring.

With that perspective, a paper can fall into several categories:

•    A white paper offer that offers a reasonable perceived value for a low commitment will attract leads. (That’s when it’s a lure.)

•    A paper that identifies its audience “Important security tips for SMBs…” is a filter – prospects self-identify in selecting the content.

•    And a white paper that is very specific to the vendor’s solution, or that is focused on the purchase and implementation effort, identifies the audience as being far along in the decision cycle. (That’s when it’s a lead score).

I always think of the audience and purpose when writing a paper, but this new perspective gives that exercise new life.

Now when I begin papers or other projects, I think of where they fit in the lead generation cycle, how we might use them within specific campaigns, and even what emails we might use to pitch the paper to the appropriate people.  Titles have a new importance.

Even the fishing lure metaphor is useful – for the big fish, you need a specialized lure. If you don’t care what you catch, go ahead and string up those worms, but you’ll be pulling a lot of perch off the hook.

The view from the Valley

When you’re standing in a valley, you can’t see much beyond the mountains around you.
dog canyon

The metaphor is useful for technical marketing professionals in Silicon Valley. We’re surrounded by tech-savvy people. You go to a PTA meeting, and the parents around you work at Sun, or at start-ups. Where I live in Mountain View, Google gives the city free wi-fi.  Our economy is based on technology, so new trends and developments are part of the daily texture. We use tech terminology as short-hand, and many people get it.  This can be dangerous when we try to talk to the larger world.

I was talking with with a high-tech CEO the other day who reminded me of this risk. While obviously there are technology centers around the globe, not everyone is current on the same terms and trends. When this CEO talks about SaaS or “software-as-a-service” to business owners in other parts of the country, they sometimes look puzzled, then say “like my ASP?” or “like my outsourced Business Processing Optimization?”

Avoiding jargon is always a good idea – even when the jargon seems to have crossed over into the mainstream locally. When the sale is a highly technical one, the challenge is even greater, while the temptation to spend time talking about the technology is very strong.  Striking the right balance, depending on the audience, is the real art behind technical marketing.

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